Tanzania History: 20th Century

15th March 2013

The Maji Maji Rebellion

The new colonialists continued to encounter serious problems with subduing the southern tribes, characterised most powerfully by the Maji Maji rebellion that began in 1905, and was thought to have been most widespread united resistance to colonial rule anywhere in Africa. The rebellion started west of Kilwa, and spread across the country until nearly all the southern tribes were allied, but the most remarkable incentive to this show of strength was the unfounded belief that the tribes had access to magical water that would protect them against German bullets. On this understanding, the united front confronted the military forces of the Europeans with impressive bravado, until thousands were machine-gunned to death when they tried to storm the fort at Mahenge. 75,000 people died in two years, and their resistance finally broke in 1907, when famine swept their land as a direct result of the Germans resorting to the same effective ‘scorched earth’ policy of retaliation that they had employed to such devastating effect previously.

German consolidation

The German colonial grasp had been considerably strengthened in 1890 by a devastating outbreak of rinderpest that wiped out an estimated 90 per cent of the cattle in this first instance of this disease in Tanganyika. Other diseases, such as jiggers and smallpox, also entered the country at this time, and are known to have been a direct result of foreign intervention. This severely weakened the population of rural communities dependent on cattle, especially the pastoral communities in the north, such as the Maasai, who suffered a severe blow to their military strength and standing, and diminished any possibility of resistance to the incoming powers. Like the Maasai, the WaArusha resisted and were defeated, but the new forces were even strategically welcomed by Chagga chiefs, who used the newcomers to settle scores among themselves.  As a result, when German and British settlers came to the grazing lands around the Rift Valley and slopes of Kilimanjaro at this time, they claimed that they found them uninhabited. British colonialists became increasingly nervous about the encroaching power of their European neighbours, and in 1890 they persuaded the Sultan of Zanzibar to sign a treaty that made the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba a British Protectorate.

By 1896 the Germans had constructed forts in most key areas, and enforced a number of taxes, such as taxes on huts, which had never gained great popularity. They preferred the cooler mountain climate of the north, around Kilimanjaro and the Usambara Mountains, where the land was better suited to growing crops, and where divisions among the chiefdoms meant that they even found some allies on arrival. Rindi of Moshi actually welcomed them, in return for their support in putting down nearby chiefs Sina and Marealle of Marangu.

The Europeans made Tanga their main HQ on the coast, with cool and pleasant settlement in the foothills of the nearby Usambaras. They set their sights on developing potentially rewarding coffee and sisal plantations, and encouraged all well-to-do chiefs and akidas to follow. The first 62 sisal plants were illegally imported from Brazil in 1892, yet by 1910 there were fifty four plantations, exporting thousands of tons a year.

The first railway was built inland from Tanga after 1891, which extended to Mombo, Kilimanjaro and Meru before the great rebellion of 1905. Lines were extended to Tabora in 1912, and Kigoma by 1914, just before the outbreak of World War One.

The Germans devised their own system of power and authority, although this was originally based on the one already employed by the Sultan. They retained the system of officials which included a Liwali as governor of each major town, and administrators, called akidas were placed in a subordinate but supporting role to them. Jumbes, or headmen, were responsible for collecting tax. Gradually the original Liwalis were replaced by German officials, and the other posts were given to students of the German schools. They created a number of schools, aiming mainly for literacy and the creation of African administrators, and these had a reputation for forced attendance and a tendency for corporal punishment.

Run up to Independence

Following international turmoil of World War One, and Germany’s defeat, the colony of German East Africa was renamed Tanganyika, governed by British from 1916 –17, until, ostensibly, 1961. The name Tanganyika is thought to have derived from one of two sources, either the combination of the Swahili words ‘Tanga’ – Swahili for sail – and ‘nyika’ – meaning the dry expanse of the interior, or alternatively it may come from the Swahili word ‘Mchanganyiko’, meaning a grouping of 120 linguistic peoples.

A relevant chapter of World War I was played out on East African soil, over the subdued plains of Dutch East Africa. (William Boyd makes informed reference to a number of these key events in his ‘fictional’ novel ‘The Ice-Cream War’. Finally German East Africa became Tanganyika, and fell under British administration from 1920 – 1946, under a mandate from the League of Nations. The British confiscated German property, and auctioned all their estates and plantations in 1922, when many of smaller properties were bought by Greeks and Asians. As sisal export recovered these new settlers made good money for a while, but many farms were also neglected.

British Occupation

The British set out to implement a policy of ‘indirect rule’; Governor Sir Donald Cameron strongly encouraged at least an appearance of rule through individual chiefs with their own courts and tax collection systems, although in reality these were firmly under the jurisdiction of British district commissioners. But the war had sapped both energy and finances, which were further dented by the Great Depression of the 1930s, and never regained right up to the outbreak of World War II in 1940. Real investment in the new colonial protectorate of Tanganyika only really occurred during last 15 years of British occupation.

In the post-war years there was a serious shortage of edible fats and oils, and the Tanganyika Director of Agriculture and the British Labour Government devised an ambitious ‘ground nut project’, aiming to cultivate three million acres of ground nuts. The project required building new harbors and railway lines, and was estimated to cost around £24 million, but ten years later £35 million had been spent, and only a few areas of bush had been cleared. The project had been dramatically rushed, with little pre-planning and soil testing, so that it soon became clear that the ground cleared was entirely unsuitable for ground nut crops.

This was just one of a series of agricultural crises. In 1955, the British tried to enforce terrace farming in the Uluguru, Usambara and Pare mountains and were met with considerable resistance. One farmer was shot for insubordination, until finally, in 1956, the laws were relaxed and the peasants pulled down all the existing terraces. It was later found that production of rice improved. It finally became clear that forced productivity, started by German colonial system, was counter-productive.

The British Protectorate

The Prince of Wales made a popular tour of Tanganyika in 1928, and by the following year Sir Percival Phillips wrote in The Daily Mail that Dodoma was ‘Clapham Junction-in-the-Bush’. The city streets were increasingly filled with shiny motor cars, and the population in Dar-es-Salaam was estimated in the British papers to be about 1,200 Europeans (120 Germans, a few Greek, a handful of Syrians and the rest British), 5000 Indians and 25,000 African. By 1945, Tanzania and Zanzibar were once again part of the world economy as exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods. But gradually the balance of power began to shift to the USA, where nearly all goods were grown and raw materials were also manufactured, and it became impossible for the African countries to keep up. The colonies were less and less economically viable, and the time came for them to begin to earn their Independence.

The first president of a new republic: Julius Kambarage Nyerere

Julius Kambarage Nyerere headed the political republic of Tanzania for nearly a quarter of a century. He reigned as autocratic President of the country’s one-party state from Tanganiyikan Independence in May 1961 until the elections of 1985, when he took an almost unprecedented step for an African president, and left office voluntarily.

Ideology versus reality

His people remember him as ‘Mwalimu’, meaning ‘Teacher’, which may reflect his attitude towards governance of people whom he considered too ill educated to know what was best for them. His leadership earned him accolades such as ‘Baba wa Taifa’ – ‘Father of the Nation’- ‘The Father of Authentic African Socialism’, and ‘The Conscience of Africa’, and did great things to the new republic in terms of creating a strong national identity, but also resulted in devastating economic decline.

[and while his ambition to develop a model for African Socialism succeeded in uniting the more than 130 disparate tribes and numerous religions of the country, the same people were devastated by absolute economic decline when he stood down from power in the mid-eighties.

Julius Kambarage was son of Nyerere Burito, an aristocratic but illiterate chief of the small Wazanaki tribe. The future president led a rural, traditional tribal life until he was twelve years old. He was originally educated at the Native Authority school in Musoma, but then moved on the British-run Roman Catholic secondary school, where he came top of the class and converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Missionaries sent him to Edinburgh University in 1949, where he was received with a scholarship and studied a degree in history, politics, and law, and thus became the first black graduate in British Administered Tanganyika. During this time Nyerere was greatly influenced by a close association with Fabian socialists, and later said that he formed the whole of his political philosophy while he was there. Also during this time Nyerere undertook the impressive task of translating choosing two very different Shakespeare plays into KiSwahili, reinterpreting both Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice.

In 1953 he married Maria Magige, and the couple subsequently had a family of five sons and 2 daughters. The following year he headed the transformation of the African Association, turning it from the non-political organisation created by the British Colonial Civil Service into a powerful political force, supported by the growing group of educated Africans who now realised that the colonial state was holding them back. The group was renamed the Tanganyikan African National Union (TANU) and was committed to achieving independence.

The success and power of Nyerere’s political drive was rewarded by his election to the legislative council of the former British colony of Tanganyika under Sir Edward Twining in 1958, and he became Prime Minister when the country achieved Independence in 1961. Nineteen months later, when the constitution was amended to make Tanganyika a republic, Julius Nyerere was elected as president and TANU was declared the only legal political party. The slogan ‘Uhuru na Umoja’, ‘Freedom and Unity’ adopted in 1954, became the motto of the country.

Development of the constitution, and merger with Zanzibar

The British Parliament had also approved a new constitution for Zanzibar in 1960, but the first elections in January 1961 had ended in a deadlock result, and further elections in June, although accompanied by rioting resulting in numerous casualties, resulted in a coalition of the Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP), and Zanzibar and Pemba People’s Party (ZNPP), each mainly representing the population of Zanzibari Arabs. Internal self-government followed in June 1963, and finally Independence was achieved in December. But many people of Zanzibar were incensed that power had been delivered straight back into the hands of the old Arab families, and the following month an internal revolution, led by ‘Field Marshal’ John Okello and his Revolutionary Council, effectively overthrew the government. Many Arabs were killed in the ensuing riots and many fled for their lives before Sayyid Jamshid ibn Abdullah, who had succeeded to the sultanate following his father’s death in 1963, was deposed, and Zanzibar was proclaimed a republic.

Okello was later refused re-entry back in Zanzibar, and Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume, was installed as president of the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba, at the helm of the Afro-Shirazi Party and ostensibly representing the majority African Population.

The Revolution was followed by an army mutiny on the mainland in 1964, which badly shook Nyerere’s confidence, forced him to turn (reluctantly) to the British Marines for assistance to suppress the dissenters. As a consequence the army was restructured, with many Tanganyikans replacing old British officers, and shortly afterwards Nyerere flew to sign the ‘articles of Union’ with Zanzibar, which led to the merger of the previously independent countries of Tanzania and Zanzibar, established as the United Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar by an Interim Constitution of 1965. A permanent constitution for the United Republic was approved in 1977, when TANU joined with the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar, and they were amalgamated into the Revolutionary Party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Nyerere, as president of the United Republic, reigned as supreme head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, with President Karume of Zanzibar as Vice President.

Military security became a huge concern after the mutiny, and large numbers of Eastern Germans and Russians were shipped in to train two thirds of the army, near a camp just a few miles from one run by Chinese for the final third.

Nevertheless, Zanzibar retained a separate constitution, approved in 1979 and amended (with the mainland constitution) in 1985. The islands keep an elected president and a cabinet, the Supreme Revolutionary Council, and a parliament made up of elected and appointed members called the House of Representatives. Both of these deal with matters of law and justice internal to Zanzibar. The merger has not been wholly smooth running since its conception; in the early days of Karume the right to detain anyone apparently opposing the state without trial was being blatantly abused, and the mainland government was powerless to intervene (although there were also numerous political prisoners on the mainland). The outcome was that Karume paid the ultimate price for apparently abusing his position when he was assassinated by the military in 1972, and his successor, Aboud Jumbe, firmly steered Zanzibar policy a little closer in line with that of the mainland.  There remain factions of Zanzibari society who continue to lobby for greater autonomy from the mainland, although the islands remain increasingly dependent on the mainland for utilities such as electricity and water supplies.


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